Be A Maverick
There is, on ancient maps, a classical phrase used by medieval cartographers: HIC SVNT LEONES when denoting unknown territories. The Latin literal meaning: Here are Lions.
In this book, we go there: Where the wild lions live in uncharted territory, to the unknown place. Because there is where my mother has taken me.
I used to jokingly tell people that my mother was not born with the mothering/nurturing gene.
It wasn’t a joke.
Trust me, there will not be more on that later. This is not that type of book.
Because what she supplied me with was something far more important than a feeling of rightness and safety, a soft place to fall family—the things a regular mother is supposed to teach.
What my mother gave me is the maverick spirit.
A lifetime of going off the map; aggravating, hair raising, terrifying, inspiring, fearless, intrepid, adventurous times in pursuit of everything theatre.
She gave me maverick.
My mother is an explorer. What a gift.
This book began at the request of my mother, Estelle Parsons, academy award winning actress (Bonnie & Clyde, 1968), Obie winner and 5-time Tony Award Nominee. It was to be a record of all the things she had created and accomplished in the theatre. On stage, with an audience, not in front of a camera. But it soon became clear to me that what she was conveying was her capacity to become an inner Navy Seal diving into the stormy depths of her own internal wars and fiercely rising to the surface clutching treasure in hand: Full blown truthful theatrical artistry and a life of authenticity.
I had thought this was just a small handbook for actors. What I discovered is that it is for anyone with a maverick spirit willing to move into uncharted territories where the wild lions live to discover their own truth, sometimes violent, sometimes terrifying, always honest, and finally peaceful and whole. My mother’s courage is what made her the actor she is today and always has been. She gave me an education of a different kind.
Our life (my twin sister Martha, mom and me) began with the traipsing’s of a nomad tribe. From theatre to theatre. A childhood of costume shops filled with hoop skirts, faux rags, soldier’s gear, Victorian boots, bustiers, tuxedos and anything one can imagine to transform a child’s world were Martha’s and my playground.
Dark matinee seats were our babysitter during the day, dressing rooms and pots of makeup kept us obsessively occupied by night. This was home.
Martha and I could sing and perform the entire score and recite every character’s dialogue of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera, and the entire libretto of The Fantastiks by the time we were eight having sat through so many performances day after day, while mom was in rehearsals for another play after play after play.
Often our bedtime was after midnight on a Naugahyde booth in a late-night bar and grill where the actors hung out after the show. The Espresso Café in Woodstock, New York, comes to mind.
A maverick childhood, worth beyond what is the imaginable in terms of inspiration, exploration, fun and wildly outside of the lines magic and mystery.
What came out of a life of picking up and searching across the country and half the globe for great parts, incredible texts, collaborative work, summer theatre, dinner theatre, any kind of theatrical experience, were life lessons. Mom will hate that idea. But it’s true. Life lessons from the theatre—for anyone who lives untethered, whose compass takes them at any moment off the map.
An education of a different kind…
Not purposeful life lessons. Bumbling in the dark ones: The way a play begins to shape itself--take some action on a stage and the life of a play and its characters begins to happen, something eventually makes sense.
Move into uncharted territory and eventually, if you survive, you find your way.
My mother is one of the last remaining American Theatre Icons. Indeed, she did a few movies to support the education of my sister and me, but from age six for her it has been the stage—an entirely different landscape, both inner and outer--than film. Even after winning an Academy Award for best supporting actress in Bonnie and Clyde, and being nominated the next year for Rachel, Rachel directed by Paul Newman, and hundreds of other awards and accolades—her impulse was to escape. Back to the theatre. To her home both in the dark and under the spotlights.
Her background certainly did not prepare her for this. And her family did not approve. When she told her father, Eben Parsons, that she was leaving law school, moving to New York to work on the Today Show on television, he said to her: “We Parsons don’t leave home.”
Full stop. Terrifying.